It took a while, but it seems people are finally starting to figure out what's at the root of the NFL officiating fiasco -- and who's to blame. Several New York Giants players spoke out Tuesday, and they pointed the finger squarely where it belongs -- at commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's owners, who have locked out the real officials and don't appear to care how bad the replacements are. Per the New York Daily News:
"I am not necessarily mad at the replacement officials," said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. "I am more upset with the NFL for not handling this and taking care of this in due time."
"There's no doubt the integrity of the game has been compromised not having the regular officials out there," added Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. "We've got to get that taken care of."
Good for these guys. I'm so sick of people saying and writing things like, "It doesn't matter whose fault this is, it just has to be resolved." Anybody's who's said or written that is an enabler, plain and simple, making it easier for the league and the owners to get away with their new favorite labor-dispute technique, the lockout. This is 100 percent the NFL's fault. Just as the players weren't last summer, the officials aren't on strike. They are locked out. The league will not budge until it gets everything it wants, and in the meantime the product is suffering. Everyone agrees that the product is suffering -- coaches, players, fans, analysts. Everyone but the league, whose official statements continue to portray everything as fine and the replacement officials as improving in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
But see, from the league's standpoint, everything is fine. If quality of the product were the concern, the league would already have moved to settle with the officials and done so in time for the start of the regular season. But quality of the product is not the league's concern. Size of audience is the league's only concern. And as long as ratings keep skyrocketing and people keep turning out for the games, frothing at the mouth in anticipation of them and climbing all over each other to break them all down, the NFL has no incentive to change anything it's doing. Long games? Bungled spots? Officials unafraid to proclaim themselves fans of one of the teams? Who cares? You're all still watching. You're all still willingly forking over your money. Why should the league move to do anything at all?
"I think all the success that this league is having, you don't want this to be a damper," Tuck said. "I think the replacement referee situation can start to put a damper on the league in some way. You don't want that to happen."
Problem is, unless this becomes a damper, nothing will get done. Unless this really begins to have a deleterious effect on the league's lifeblood -- TV ratings and the advertising dollars that go with them -- the owners will have no incentive to get it resolved. They'll just wait for the officials to cave in and give them what they want, and they'll march smugly into the future, assured that they were completely justified in locking out their employees and refusing to negotiate seriously. If the Giants' players are really that upset, they should be talking to their owner, because he's one of the key people behind the whole mess in the first place.
It was so refreshing to hear Steve Young on "Monday Night Football" go off on his "They don't care" rant about the league, because I really don't think people understand what this is about. The NFL could afford to pay its officials any amount of money it wanted to. It could afford to fund pensions for the officials and their kids and their dogs and cats and fish. The NFL has more money than any of us will ever be able to conceive, and if it cared to put the best possible product on its fields and your TV screens, it would simply have solved this by now. But it does not. The league and the owners care more about getting it the way they want it -- the best possible deal that lines their pockets to the maximum extent possible. And they don't care whether you like the way they do it or not. They know, no matter how upset you may get about it, that you're not going anywhere. And until they're scared you are, they're not going to change the way they behave. Not one tiny little bit.
You want this officials' dispute resolved? It's pretty simple. Stop putting up with it. Stay home this week. Keep your TV turned off. Hit them in the wallets, because that's the only place these guys feel anything. If you're not prepared to do that, then no amount of hand wringing is going to help. It doesn't matter to the NFL that the replacement officials have made the game harder to watch. It will only matter if people actually stop watching.